SCOTLAND would be thrown into legal limbo if voters are not given a straight referendum choice on independence or the status quo, Union supporters have warned ahead of their official campaign launch tomorrow.
Writing in Scotland on Sunday today, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie says that a “two question” referendum – asking people both about independence and a more powerful Scottish Parliament – would end up in the courts, leaving judges to decide the future of the country.
His comments come with the “Better Together” campaign pressing for a deal with the SNP to ensure there is one straightforward question asking people in Scotland whether they want independence or not.
However, SNP ministers say they will await the outcome of their consultation on the referendum, and have left open the prospect of a more complex vote in which questions on both independence and a more powerful Holyrood are put to people.
Rennie says today: “If the question is not unambiguous and the choice clear to voters there is a chance that the result of the referendum could be challenged in court.”
He suggests Scotland would be pushed into the same position as the US in 2000 when the contest between Al Gore and George Bush pushed the country into “legal chaos”.
“I don’t want the future of my country to be decided by the courts through the legal system rather than by voters at the ballot box,” he declares.
The warnings come as talks between UK and Scottish ministers have stalled over the conduct of the referendum, with the wrangling over the number and style of the question emerging as the key point of disagreement.
The UK government has offered to transfer powers to Holyrood to enable it to stage the referendum, but there has not yet been a deal on how the poll should be framed.
Today, a poll by the “Future of Scotland” campaign suggests people want the constitutional debate to include independence and other forms of devolution. Asked whether the ‘debate on Scotland’s future should fully explore all available options”, 69 per cent said yes, while only 30 per cent said it should focus solely on independence.
Robin Parker, president of NUS Scotland – which is part of the campaign – said: “It’s clear politicians need to set out how they will make all the options for Scotland’s future available to the people of Scotland.”
John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University has suggested that people are asked separately whether they want Scotland to be independent, before then asking if the first answer turned out to be ‘no, would they want the Scottish Parliament to be given more powers.
However, this too is dismissed by the “Better Together” camp which insists a single question on independence must be put to people. The campaign tomorrow will be headed up by former Chancellor Alistair Darling. He told last night he would like the poll to be held a year earlier, in 2013.
“I will be making things very clear. We are ready for the contest. Rather than speculate for two more years or have more polls, lets put it to the vote and people can make up their own minds, ” he said.